Why je suis Charlie

"Le crayon guidant le peuple"

“Le crayon guidant le peuple”

I scrolled through my timeline, stupefied. At first, I didn’t realize the magnitude of the situation, as I have a disproportionate number of French friends and news outlets I follow on Twitter. But as pencils appeared in profile pictures, and Je Suis Charlie was scrawled in cursive across the Internet, I knew it was bigger than I had imagined.

Having spent nine months in France last year, my heart ached for the country and its citizens as they coped with the aftermath of the January 7th attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, and one I was quite familiar with. While studying abroad, my class had their original cartoons of Mohammed in our French culture class, during a unit on immigration and the cultural tensions between native Frenchmen and foreign immigrants, many of whom are Muslim. The day after the attack, my classmates and I received an email from this teacher describing his reaction upon learning of the death of these cartoonists whose chronicles of historical events he’d grown up with. The truth was unavoidable… this was a big deal.

As a journalist and writer, I was doubly affected. Censorship is an issue I take very seriously, having been told since I started writing online that I have to be careful what I say, careful not to offend anyone, careful not to raise too many eyebrows, because anyone can read this, because if you Google me, you will find me. I don’t think others should have the right to decide what you can and should believe and share and think and write. Your thoughts and opinions are your own, and as long as you don’t harm anyone, you shouldn’t be prevented from sharing what you believe.

Charlie Hebdo’s slain editor-in-chief, Stephane Charbonnier (known also under his pseudonym Charb) once said, “A pencil is not a weapon. It’s just a means of expression.” So whether or not you support Charlie Hebdo as a publication, raise your pencils in solidarity for fellow journalists and in support of free speech, for in that regard, we are all Charlie.

2014 in review: August is the new January 

I can’t be the only one. For me, the new year started in August. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t write the customary year in review piece before January 1, 2015. Not to mention, trying to capture my 2014 is like taking the ending of one book and mashing it with the beginning of another. So much happened within the past year, but to only analyze just from January to December leaves out all the backstory. Yet, it’s an interesting mixture of who I am, almost a cross section of the multiple entities I swear inhabit my body. For, in 2014 I was French and Chinese and Indian and American… loud and sassy and a social media junkie and a bookworm… All at once.
Regardless of the jumble encompassed therein, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen of the Internet, I present to you, my year in review (aka my life, in media res).
January: Commemorated 17 with pizza, friends, How I Met Your Mother, and Cards Against Humanity in a basement lit only by our tiny glowing phone screens.
February: Debated ways to improve access to technology and the utility of GMOs in English, at ILYMUN with international strangers. Fell back in love with intellectual arguments and the idea of so many motivated, aware humans congregating together.
March: In Paris and Strasbourg, found out that maybe good things can happen after 2am; in Berlin, experienced the terror of being in a foreign country without speaking the language, and developed a love hate relationship with bikes.
April: Spent a day shadowing journalists at Ouest France, the most widely read daily French paper.
May: Capitol-hopped across Europe,  graduated from a Victorian school house and slept on too many buses.
June: Interned at Printpack, embraced the 9-5 grind, attended ISTE and was adopted into the Dell YIA family.
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July: Went to Chicago for EFL and was touched at how similar and close I was to people I hadn’t known a week before.
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August: Fangirled hard at the One Republic concert.
September: Attended (and helped organize) Student Voice Live! and saw Stromae in concert with S.B.
SVL team love
October: Burrowed into college apps and ran my last 5k for my school.
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November: Had Friendsgiving with A.N and met up with S.V (SYA Reunion of 2), and a slew of others quickly becoming new and good friends who share my liking for ice cream, coffee + Calvin and Hobbes.
December: Got in to college and participated in my school’s 24 hour relay with some of my best friends since Middle School despite kind of having the plague.
If I do say so myself, it’s been quite a year. I think it’s taken me some time to see this because for the past few months I’ve had college application tunnel-vision. For those of you who don’t already know, aka haven’t been subjected to the “wonderful” American college application process, the Common App is thenwebsite where you can input all your information to send to most schools and answer any school specific supplements. On the Common App, one of the essay prompts talks about a transition to adulthood. Though this isn’t the prompt I finally chose, I think it could easily have applied to my 2014, the year before I became a legal adult. The beginning of 2014 and the second half of my school year in France was when I resolved to push further out of my comfort zone and try different lifestyles; And the second half of 2014, during my first semester of senior year, I got a glimpse of what it was like to juggle an adult life and strive for that balance between work and fun (family + friends). Who I am grew, and shifted and expanded and morphed, and I realized, I might always be a work in progress… And that’s ok.

Emma Watson Leads UN Campaign He for She

On September 22, actress Emma Watson (best known for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise) addressed the United Nations as one of their Global Goodwill Ambassadors to deliver a speech launching a new UN campaign entitled He For She. The campaign was born out of the desire to counter the premise that people often see feminism as only by women for women and the movement’s recent bad rap, with feminist women being seen as too strong or aggressive, ugly and anti-men. Watson and the UN want to change that. The UN has described He for She as “a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all.” After all, as Watson said, “How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feels welcome to participate in the conversation?”

gaiman heforshe

Following Watson’s speech, many of her celebrity pals showed their support with a fervor, with many well known males (from author Neil Gaiman and singer Harry Styles to Watson’s Noah co-star Logan Lerman and Harry Potterco-star Matthew Lewis), posting pictures of themselves on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with the campaign’s hashtag #heforshe. As of October 18, 182,781 people had made the He for She commitment to taking action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls based on the idea that gender equality is not only a women’s issue, but a human rights issue that requires everyone’s participation.

Unfortunately, not all the press and attention Watson received following her speech at the UN was positive. Watson was targeted by Internet hackers, notably receiving a slew of comments and even a website, threatening to find and release nude pictures of her following the iCloud breach that leaked many inappropriate photos of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence. Additionally, as with any hot-topic issue, there are the critics. In this case, some people say this campaign ignores the issues men face. However, Watson’s plan was benign and clear in its intent to help garner support for the feminist movement. In that aspect, it has been a success, given that these days it is a victory just to get recognized and garner enough attention to one’s cause.

Watson closed her speech with a question that relates not only to this campaign but is just generally something this generation must keep in mind, given that we are faced with so many worthy causes and pressing issues. Ask yourself, “if not me then who? If not now, when?”

Indian PM Narendra Modi visits U.S

September 26, 2014 marked the start of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five-day American tour. This was Modi’s first trip to the U.S since his election in May, following a nine-year visa ban, over accusations that in 2002, when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, he did nothing to stop the massive anti-Muslim rioting that led to the deaths of over 1000 people. Modi’s visit included an address at the UN General Assembly, meetings with CEOs of major international companies (including Google), a speech at Madison Square Garden that drew a crowd of around 20,000 and a dinner with U.S President Barack Obama (during which Modi didn’t actually eat, since he was on a religious fast).

Modi’s visit foretells mostly good things for Indo-American relations. Previously, the relationship between the two nations has been fine at best. But with India’s star on the rise, and the growing importance (read: potentially impending turbulence) of the broader region, the U.S could really use Asia’s largest democracy as an ally. The renewed American interest in India is also an attempt to combat the increasing power of China, especially given Modi’s vision for India to challenge China for Asian primacy this century.

The Prime Minister’s trip comes at a critical time. India is currently in a very transitional phase, and the country is working to figure out exactly what they want for the future. Under Modi, the Indian government has developed a fairly clear economic, political and social vision. During the presidential race, Modi and his party the National Democratic Alliance ran on a platform of ten priorities, a blueprint for their developmental. This ten point agenda is centered on increased transparency, innovation, efficiency and sustainability. As for foreign policy, Modi, like Obama, is looking to build bridges with the East, in his own “pivot to Asia.” In this vein, his first major international visit as the Indian Prime Minister was to Japan.  Beyond Modi’s personal issues, the Indian government is also uncertain of the sincerity behind Obama and the United States’s commitment to supporting India and the East-Asian region given all the other hot-button foreign policy issues such as Russia’s interventions in Ukraine and the U.S campaign against radical Islamists in the Middle East.

Modi’s visit and the mixed but vocal response shows the importance of U.S-India relations. And if the enamored crowd at Madison Square Garden is any indication, the U.S is ready to welcome a stronger Indo-American partnership.



(cross posted from Smart Girls Group)

11 Lessons from Student Voice Live!

On September 20, Student Voice held its second annual conference, Student Voice Live! in New York City at shootdigital studios.

Student Voice is a non-profit organization that is powering the global education conversation and geared towards amplifying, aggregating and empowering youth voices on big-issue topics. Research shows that only 47 percent of students believe they have a voice in decision-making and this dips to 36% in the 12th grade. Student Voice strives to enhance the overall effectiveness of education by ensuring students are regarded as equal stakeholders in their education experience. Including students on decisions pertaining to their education has been known to reduce absenteeism, enhance school climate, promote civic engagement, and build character amongst all students. Starting with weekly Twitter chats, Student Voice has become the world’s largest and most consistent online student dialogue, garnering more than 5,000,000 views worldwide.

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Student Voice Live! 2014 — hosted by Hunger Games actress Jaqueline Emerson and with talks by high school senior and cancer researcher, Jack Andraka; author of the New York Times best-selling novel, “The Smartest Kids in the World,” Amanda Ripley; and The Director of the Office of Education Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, Richard Culatta – had more than 200 attendees!  The conference was full of poignant takeaways; in no particular order, some of the many important lessons discussed at and gleaned from Student Voice are:

  1. Actions speak louder than words.  Walk the Talk!
    Student Voice advocates for students to take charge of their own education and get involved with what they’re interested in — a mission that was visible at the event. Firstly, Student Voice Live! itself was put on by a team of 18 students who collaborated virtually across multiple schools, states and countries. Furthermore, the conference was the set for the first episode of the Student Ignite Show — which, as a web show produced, directed and filmed by students is a prime example of student voice in action.
  2. Entrepreneurship and education is like oil and vinegar.
    Entrepreneurs are not created — they’re empowered. This statement ties back to a broader argument that these more “intangible” skillsets and mindsets can’t necessarily be taught, but with proper guidance and concentrated effort, anything is possible.
  3. Growth happens when we become comfortable being uncomfortable.
    Change is the only constant.  Just as muscles get built only after exerting them to point of tear, so does growth come only when we keep pushing past the comfort zone.
  4. Innovations stem from constant problem solving.
    In trying to tackle a big issue, solving one problem creates another hurdle that needs to be surmounted in order to achieve the desired result. For example, Jack Andraka mentioned that after finding a tentative cure to pancreatic cancer, the problem was finding a lab that would allow him to test his theory.  Once he accomplished that, he had to find and conduct further research to support his experiment.
  5. Education isn’t just about books. It’s also about people and making connections.
    Sure book knowledge is useful but tapping into the knowledge gained from a network of connections and collaborating across this network can be a powerful, alternative source of education.
  6. Knowledge shouldn’t be exclusive.
    Many academic article and journals are locked behind pay-walls, as are online version of articles in many common publications. Beyond this, in some developing countries, girls are still denied the right to an education.  Also, globally, as well as in the United States, education seems to go to the highest bidder; people without the financial means to pay for it often can’t get a quality education or sometimes any education at all.
  7. Students deserve the same rights as everyone else.
    The 1969 US Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines, affirmed that schools could only restrict speech that interferes with the education of other students or the operation of the school. Erik Martin and other students recently drafted a Student Bill of Rights that attempts to uphold this ruling and expounds upon the additional rights to which students are entitled. At Student Voice Live!, a panel of students, lawyers and teachers explored this draft bill, the evolution of student rights, which rights students are currently lacking and what students can do if they feel their rights are being violated.
  8. Students deserve to know how their school is run.
    School is theoretically for the students so direct conversation between students and the administrative team and transparency on scholastic decisions and actions builds an effective, inclusionary educational environment.
  9. If society repeatedly labels people as failures, at a certain point, they start believing it.
    This is a large part of the reasons why many minorities don’t engage in STEM or seek out mentors. They don’t think they are entitled to the same opportunities as everyone else nor qualified enough to get involved. This lack of diversity in STEM has inspired countless initiatives, many of which incorporate art — a universal language and globally relatable medium — in an attempt to draw in a larger and more varied group of people beyond the stereotypical Asians and the white men.
  10. Mentorship is organic.
    It’s not like online dating—you can’t pair people up randomly and force a relationship. The best partnerships happen when both parties can stand to gain from the interaction and want to help each other.
  11. Don’t take no for an answer. Rejection isn’t the end.
    Overwhelm the critics with evidence and support for your cause.

(Cross posted from the Smart Girls Loop)

I Remember…

I remember cold nights and knit hats snatched up from the arms of someone else, in an apartment that seemed to house half the inventory of the storied shops on the street below.  I remember feeling giddy in my toes, so numb they might fall off but imbued with the teenage fire to keep marching on. I remember grey skies and raindrops that fell like manna from the heavens and buses that never came. Late nights spent restlessly tapping my feet, checking my watch and trying to send an iMessage to reassure my parents with the one bar of internet that occasionally blew my way.


I remember those girls in crisp dresses and weathered boots, faces tilted like an open invitation, lips parted in open scorn– walking enigmas. Laughter floated on the humidity as it evaporated towards the shingled rooftops, indistinguishable from the man-made smog streaming out of the dimly lit cafés with their plastic tarp overhangs and overpriced café au lait— a midnight heaven.


I remember reckless abandoners. The boys so haunting you forgot they too were haunted. And the promises that never materialized, disappearing as the words hit the air. All smoke and no substance. Just shiny coins and pretty thangs and hugs that smelled like fresh air.


Backstage at sunset on Madison Avenue, far away from reality, I remember neon lights and the slow feeling as smiles worked their way through bodies.  Nestled in the crook of a stair step, leaning on concrete and each other. Hair tangled up in words and eyes caught up in the glow. Arms linked, zigzagging through the dark, wet, streets with bright hearts and frost on our cheeks.


(This post was originally an English assignment to capture a moment that meant something to us.)

100 Things I Learned After a Year Abroad

Inspired by my dear blogging buddy Nat and in honor of the fact that this year’s class is currently on their way to the small lovely city I called my home for a year, here are 100 things I learned while living in France. 

  1. Bread + butter is a severely underrated combo.
  2. Tea makes everything better.
  3. When life sucks go for a run. 
  4. Don’t dismiss the blond lacrosse player from Florida or the fashion-loving party girl from Cali. The former may turn out to be a serious bookworm and fellow quote enthusiast, the latter a budding poet and running buddy. 
  5. Music makes everything better. Make playlists for running, for sleep, for when you want to throw things and scream, for when you’re sad, for studying (an all classical one), for when you just wanna dance and for when you can’t stop smiling…soundtracks to a lifetime. 
  6. Public transportation is a beautiful thing.  
  7. Sometimes, it’s just a sweatshirt and leggings kind of day. And that is ok.
  8. Cheese is dessert.
  9. Dessert should be had after every meal (excluding breakfast cuz it practically already is just dessert). 
  10. A good pair of shoes can make or break a day. For example, a colorful pair of rain boots on what seems like the umpteenth dreary, rain day in weeks provide a splash of happiness amongst swathes of grey.
  11. If the bus is late, don’t wait, just start walking. 
  12. Friendship is impromptu ice cream dates after bombing a math test, cram sessions over cups of caramel tea and bringing each other chocolate when they’re having a bad day. (Vanilla dark chocolate is like a universal pick me up).
  13. Don’t forget to show people you care. 
  14. Watching French movies is ALWAYS a good idea. 
  15. Don’t judge the family-friendly Catholic movie your host parents invite you to. It may turn out to be an actually funny backdrop to bonding, complete with caramel kettle corn.
  16. Speculoos is heaven in a jar. 
  17. Blood meat sausage is just as oily as it sounds. Try at your own risk.
  18. Every now and again, one just needs photo shoots with street art. 
  19. The French will judge you. 
  20. Europeans don’t do backpacks. 
  21. The effortless French style is a lie. Effortless actually means at least 30 minutes, a lot of perfume, red lipstick and varying amounts of black eyeliner.  
  22. Beauty is pain.
  23. Friday afternoons should be spent in the company of friends, sprawled across the floor of a loft watching badly dubbed movies projected onto a skylight.
  24. It’s ok to act like an obnoxiously loud American teenager every once in a while.
  25. Running clothes aren’t meant for grocery shopping.
  26. Going to an outdoor market is still a surprisingly authentic and worthwhile experience despite the ubiquity of supermarkets. 
  27. Brunch is a cute word and an even cuter meal.
  28. It is possible to get mentally, physically and emotionally lost in an art museum. Two out of those three are actually rather pleasant sensations.
  29.  Hostel food is generally not appetizing or all that cheap. Lose-lose situation…
  30. Meteorologists are often wrong. Forget the apps and just look out a window. 
  31. It is possible for a social media junkie to go 2 weeks without any real outside contact and almost 9 months without steady Internet.
  32. Don’t forget to live a little. Go for a run in the rain, grab tea after class or go out to dinner with friends.
  33. Good friends are the family you choose. 
  34. There’s nothing wrong with a cathartic cry every now and again. 
  35. Nothing good happens after 2am. Unless you’re in a hotel room somewhere in the middle of France with 6 of your best friends.  
  36. The metro will close eventually. Even in Paris. 
  37. Notes are more fun to take in pen.
  38. There’s no such thing as too much black.
  39. February is inevitably dreary. 
  40. French people like American music. They don’t understand why Americans want to listen to French music.
  41. Most “popular” musicians who sing in French aren’t actually French. 
  42. This too shall pass.
  43. A good bus buddy shares their music and food. 
  44. It is possible to sleep on airplanes and buses (especially if you and your seat neighbor are willing to fold like pretzels).
  45. If you think you couldn’t possibly eat an entire sleeve of Langues de Chat cookies, think again. Just let it happen.
  46. Write letters. The people who care will always write back. Plus getting snail mail is like Christmas in a tiny envelope.
  47. Cathedrals come in all shapes and sizes (like people) but they’re still all breathtaking and have beautiful windows. 
  48. It’s ok to fall. 
  49. Always have water, an umbrella, gum, a hair tie, headphones and a book in your bag. 
  50. There’s no such thing as goodbye. 
  51. Anything can happen.
  52. If you want something, go for it.
  53. Write things down. Words. Quotes. Images. Feelings. Ideas. Save them.  
  54. Everyone’s a little messed up somehow– even diamonds can be flawed.
  55. Accents are endearing.
  56. A night in with good friends and a movie generally beats a night out with strangers. 
  57. Internet is not guaranteed.
  58. A year without AC is doable. A year without heating is not. 
  59. Sometimes it’s better not to have a detailed plan. You never know where your wanderings may lead.
  60. There are few things more comforting than the sound of rain. 
  61. Always buy the metro tickets in Germany. Even if you think your 24-hour passes should still be valid. Just buy another ticket. 
  62. Being in a country where you can’t speak the language is like being an infant all over again. 
  63. Crêpes in Paris don’t hold a candle to crêpes in Brittany. 
  64. Don’t ask “why?” Ask “why not?”
  65. Everyone does pizza differently. 
  66. There is no better feeling than being told by a native that you don’t sound foreign.
  67. Pickpockets are real and prevalent.
  68. Napoleon was almost not French.
  69. People are too complex to be judged and labeled as any one thing.
  70. You can spend an entire semester studying the American efforts in World War 1. 
  71. La Shoah is not the same thing as le choix.
  72. Lunch should be an hour-long, five-course affair.
  73. Rachitique does not mean ratchet.
  74. The French don’t have a word for awkward.
  75. Learning a new language in your second language is mind blowing.  
  76. Old people have the best stories. 
  77. People change.
  78. Une bouteille d’eau is bottled water that’ll cost you. Une carafe d’eau is from the tap and free. 
  79. Study abroad bucket lists are meant to be completed, edited, and elongated. 
  80. When everyone’s asleep, the city breathes. 
  81. Sometimes, buses just won’t come.
  82. Paris is always a good idea.
  83. You can’t make buttercream frosting without powdered sugar.
  84. When you usually get a two-week break every two months, going three months without a break is killer.
  85. People who say they love rain have probably never lived in a place where it rains constantly.
  86. Listening to top 40 music from back when you lived in America will either a- make you really nostalgic and sad or b- remind you of fun times back home (which oftentimes inevitably leads to “a”).
  87. Homesickness will wear off (eventually). 
  88. Not sticking out as a foreigner is an art. 
  89. Getting lost can be both a blessing and a curse. 
  90. All umbrellas are not created equal.
  91. Don’t underestimate the power of the little things.
  92. If you can’t parallel park, don’t even think about driving in most of Europe.
  93. Losing yourself in a language is an incredible feeling.
  94. Go to museums. When you’re under 18 they’re free in most places.
  95. If you’re feeling down, it’s clearly the dementors’ fault so it’s perfectly acceptable, in fact it’s advisable, to consume large amounts of chocolate. 
  96. A large part of study abroad is hanging out in cafés and people watching.
  97. The French drink lots of liquids like hot chocolate, milk and juice, out of a bowl.
  98. Everything is relative.
  99. The girl you sat next to on the bus and the girl from Alaska and the tall lanky blond boy and the soccer jock from the middle of nowhere-Maine and the crazy theatre girl and even the girl who once lived 15 minutes away but to whom you’ve never really spoken before might just turn out to be seriously kindred spirits and lifelong friends.
  100. Everything will work out and be ok in the end. (If it’s not ok, it’s not the end).